Racer Boy: Time Attack, or How to Race on a Real Track Without Totaling Your Car
Sure, we all know that you would probably be racing in F1 already if there wasn’t that small complication about you not having a racing license. Guess what? Your endless excuses are now null and void. Time Attack is a venue where a regular guy (or gal) can go out and race on the big tracks. That’s right, no parking lot racing here. These events are held on real race tracks that you’ve been reading about in magazines and playing on Gran Turismo for years. This is the real deal. Time Attack is a timed racing event where you take your car onto the track, do your best impression of Aryton Senna on a qualifying lap, and try to put down a blisteringly fast time. Your best lap time is compared to that of people in your class (similar cars, similar mods). The one with the fastest lap time picks up a trophy and never ending glory. THE COST Time Attack is more expensive than entry level drag racing or autocrossing, but you are getting the chance to race at an actual motorsports complex (like the famed Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca) so that is to be expected. Entry fees are a stout 300-400 bones for the weekend, depending on the track and the sanctioning body. The good news is your car and safety equipment are not expensive (compared to road racing) since you don’t need a roll cage, five point harness, fireproof clothing, etc. Your girlfriend’s Volkswagen Jetta parked in the dorm parking lot would be fine (she doesn’t have to know). For the Time Attack street car class all you need is long pants, a long sleeve shirt and an M2000 rated helmet (you can get one cheap at www.ioportracing.com). SANCTIONING BODY Redline Time Attack (www.redlinetimeattack.com) is the club that goes all over the country putting on these events. They give you super cool door panels with a car number on them (which makes you feel like an actual racecar driver –stickers always have this effect). The only thing Redline Time Attack likes to see is that each car has some tow straps on the front and back bumpers. Yes, these tow straps will make you look like a hero while parked in the Pep Boys parking lot on Saturday night. Super Lap Battle (www.superstreetonline.com) and Grassroots Motorsports Ultimate Track Car Challenge (www.grassrootsmotorsports.com) both run similar magazine supported versions of Time Attack (if you’re lucky you may get your picture in a magazine). NASA, National Auto Sport Association (www.nasaproracing.com), runs something called Time Trials but requires some version of licensing, as you need to go through their High Performance Driving Experience (HPDE) graduation program to run (Level 4 Required to participate). Knowing that no licensing or experience is required, you have an idea what type of people you’re running against: dudes just like you. With a gut full of adrenaline and a heavy right foot, plenty of cars end up off of the track (hence the tow straps). Any track that has a wall (Infineon, Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca) will crush a car like a beer can. Tracks that have lots of run off area (Buttonwillow, Thunderhill) will allow your car to come home with straight body panels (just a lot of extra dirt underneath). The car’s lap times are kept track of by a computer using AMB transponders. Most sanctioning bodies and tracks allow you to rent these for the day. And you want to rent it if this is a one time thing because to buy one you’ll spend around $400 (www.amb-it.com). THE HIGH This is where Time Attack pays off big dividends. You wanted to feel what it would be like to strap on a helmet and drive the same track as the American LeMans Series cars. Well, now you’re doing it as you go down the front straight at Laguna at over a 100 mph with your favorite number plastered on your door. It is awesome. The track is a blur as it goes by. Your hands are shaking it is so exciting. You’re pushing yourself, you’re pushing the car, you are racing for a win. Every second counts and every foot of track is an area where you need to be going faster than everyone in your class. This is what race driving feels like. Even though Time Attack is a race based on your fastest lap time, as opposed to being the first person to cross the finish line, you are still on track with everyone else. There are no restrictions on passing (like at HPDE events, where they only pass in certain straights). You are on the track door to door. That comes with both excitement and fear. Most of the time, people give each other space and also wave each other by, however when the red mist gets a hold of you, I’ve gone deep into corners two wide trying to out-brake guys. Yup, that will get your adrenaline up quick and possibly redecorate the back of your car too. CAR WEAR Theoretically, if you keep your head clear, run the track like you are supposed to (that means stay on the paved sections), and wave by the faster more reckless drivers, your car will come home without a scratch. Sure your tires will be worn, your brake rotors will probably be warped, and your brake fluid boiled, but that stuff can happen any Friday night on Mulholland Drive . However, I’ve seen a few cars crunched into the tires at Time Attacks. Generally these are solo vehicle collisions with nobody to blame but the driver himself. If you don’t want your car to look like it got sideswiped by a city bus, slow down. Car to car contact is strictly enforced. One of my friends was banned from an event for his “rubbin’ is racin’” theory of life. At Time Attack rubbing is absolutely not racing. They won’t stand for it. They want to put on an event where people can feel safe bringing their daily drivers out, getting some track experience and competing for time. YOUR DAY Pre-register online, then you travel. Most of us don’t live down the street from Laguna Seca or Daytona. These races are usually set up as two day events so you need to find a hotel/motel or sleep in the back seat of your Lotus (oops, you don’t have one). I’ve crammed four teammates into a single occupancy room at Motel 6 for $25 a night, good times –the lesson here: be the first one to the shower, one towel. When you arrive at the track you can rent your transponder (bring lots of tie wraps to fix this thing onto your radiator support). At check in you will pick up your famed door number panels. Your girlfriend’s car will look like an instant racecar after the simple application of these stickers (a little wax on the door before you put the sticker on will guarantee that you won’t pull the paint off the door when it’s time to remove the sticker). Or you can be that guy who leaves the number on after the race because: 1. You like cops, and 2. You can’t wait to park the car at Pep Boys next Saturday night for some gloating and bench racing. There will be a drivers meeting where they talk about safe passing, sound limits (keep those mufflers) and flags. Yes, this is a real racetrack and they use real flags. Nothing complicated though, green means “go,” yellow means “slow,” black means “no.” The checkered means you’re done but doesn’t mean you’ve won. After your session you will stand in a large crowd trying to read over someone’s shoulder small 12 point type font on a piece of paper taped to a wall showing your finishing position in class. That is when you will know if you won the race. It won’t be on the track at the finish line, but while standing in a tight crowd. Generally you get two or three 20 minute sessions for practice, then they will hold the official runs. All laps are timed, but the “official” runs are the ones that count toward a trophy. That is when you let it all loose and hammer down. This is also when a lot of cars end up in the gravel traps. THE PEOPLE This group of folks brings together a wide range of motorsports enthusiasts. You will have big money teams that traveled across four states to compete, bringing with them transport trucks, caterers and extra cars. Then you will have entry level people who just want to compete in their grocery getters. Their pit set up will consist of a $10 fold up chair and a box of donuts. There is a pretty good backing from the SEMA crowd bringing teams who are trying to prove that their tire or their jumbo jet rear spoiler/wing is the “it” item. It is a neat mix of racers and unlike most entry level motorsports events these races actually have some fans. No, when you go down the front straight, the stands will not be filled. But there will be a couple of college kids who brought out their lowered Civics to check out the show. As far as drivers, I’ve seen the gamut -from people in rental cars wearing a pair of Levi’s and a long sleeve shirt, to pro drivers in $2000 Sparco suits working one weekend contracts as hired guns trying to bring in the fastest lap possible for a high paying team. GLORY There is glory to be found here. They have fans, they have stickers, they have a trophy girl (oh, yeah) and they have trophies. You are racing at a real track and sometimes they even use the speaker system to announce your name and lap times. If you want to feel like a racecar driver, this is the place to do it. You definitely get your bang for your buck here. 400 cash sounds like a lot for a weekend. But you can do this with your street car, street clothes and street cred. You get to run just like the pro’s do during qualifying. OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA? The chances of you arriving in a street car, at a track you’ve never driven, and picking up first place are slim (but not impossible). There are some serious bragging rights to be had here, good magazine support and internet support abound, so teams bring out their best to do well. However, there are classes that are thin and a podium finish is totally doable. The street class can still use 140 tread rating DOT race tires (Toyos have this market cornered) so having the right tires, just like in any racing event, means a lot. Even though it is a street class, modifications are welcome and most winning cars are heavily modified which comes with it a heavy price. Best thing you can do to bring some luck in your favor is have some home track advantage. Know the track and you will go fast. For instance, at the Redline Time Attack Finale held at Laguna Seca, some teams were lost on track, while local boys ran “slower” cars to an easy victory because they knew the many idiosyncrasies of that complex course. Read the rules, find that sweet spot and show up prepared. You never know, you might kiss that trophy girl. RACER BOY GAUGE Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here: Fuel gauge is a little over half full because you don’t have to install a roll cage, but you still had to pay the steep entry fee, travel, get a hotel and probably redo your brakes after the event. The tachometer is at 6,200 RPMs because the excitement is there. You feel like “the man” going through the corkscrew at Laguna Seca after just passing a guy on the back straight. The Speedometer is around 80 mph because this is relatively safe racing, relative to how your drive the course. Remember you are racing at a racetrack that normally requires HANS devices, FIA fireproof underwear, roll cages and fuel cells. You are pedaling a street car while wearing a pair of Lucky Brand jeans driving on CV joints that have a hundred thousand miles on them. Believe me; the walls around the track are just as hard for you in your Integra as they are for the guys driving ALMS GT3 Porsches. Respect the course. The volts gauge is in the less than half range because this doesn’t require a ton of personal time or effort to participate in. No race license needed, race car preparation or prior race schooling, just a weekend of your time and a street car. The mileage is at around 7,000 miles because these events generally aren’t tough on your car (depending on your driving style). However, they are always tough on brakes. Road courses are all about big speeds with big slow downs. If you drive with your right foot instead of your brain, you can tack on 100,000 more miles for putting the car into a tire wall. There is some car risk here in comparison to an autocross where there is nothing to hit except cones. No more excuses, if you want to race at the world famous tracks, you can. Go get ‘em, Mario (For you gamers, I was referring to Mario Andretti, the World Champion, not Mario from Mario Kart).